Last week was extremely busy and varied, starting in Swindon and ending in Manchester. The recurrent themes for the week were value and impact. I attended a meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology which discussed how best to maximize the value of UK strengths in research, innovation and higher education. There were some interesting perspectives put forward by the speakers including the continued need for cultural change, including an increase in risk taking, in both academia and industry to realize the UK’s true potential; the fact that British companies have adapted to the changing business environment but not actually changed their modus operandi and really driven innovation; how the impact agenda including schemes from ourselves and other research councils has begun to drive people thinking about the broader outcomes of research not just in economic terms, and good examples of academia-industry interactions such as the National Structural Integrity Research Centre were mentioned.
Some of these areas were developed further in the HEPI conference the next day entitled ‘UK Universities and Research Competitiveness: The Future for UK Research Policy & Funding’. There I spoke about some of the many ways BBSRC is enabling impact from our research funding, with examples from fundamental science, research and innovation campuses and schemes such as Excellence with Impact and Innovator of the Year. In fact I had spent much of the previous day at the Biomedical YES (young entrepreneurs scheme) workshop in the Stevenage Bioscience Catalyst. This was part of the broader YES program where students from a range of biosciences work in teams and learn what is required to commercialize an idea. There are presentations from start-up CEOs, finance, business development, patents and venture capitalists. It cumulates with the finalists from all the workshops presenting at the YES final in London in December. The winning team will be presented with the overall Biotechnology YES title and a £1,000 cash prize. I got a real buzz sitting in and discussing the projects with the students and hopefully I was able to provide a useful perspective.
Problems with the computer and laptop en route to Manchester meant my mood was not optimal when I arrived at the venue where I was to give the after dinner speech at the 2013 BBSRC Fellows Conference. However any grumpiness was instantly lifted when I started meeting the participants and hearing in more detail about their brilliant research projects. One of the things that really impressed me was that many of the projects are truly interdisciplinary and how this is really pushing the science forward. There were some great examples of public engagement and how the Fellowships had really helped people’s careers. An example of this was given by Sarah Ferguson, a recipient of a Daphne Jackson Fellowship which had enabled her to return to a career in science. As important from my perspective were the positive comments about the BBSRC in general, and its staff in particular, especially David McAllister and Avril Ferris.
I had hoped to catch up with Chris Bass who was at the meeting to discuss his article on host plant shifts in aphids but ran out of time. I must confess I had never really thought about aphids having cytochrome P450s and their role in resistance before, although this class of metabolizing enzymes frequently causes problems in the development of new medicines. The aphid, Myzus persicae, has recently adapted to feed on the tobacco plant and it has been able to do this though overexpression of CYP6CY3. This cytochrome P450 enzyme is responsible for metabolizing the nicotine in the plant, which would otherwise be toxic, into non-toxic metabolites. The paper showed that the overexpression of CYP6CY3 results from the expansion of a dinucleotide microsatellite in the promoter region and a recent gene amplification. Chris is based at Rothamsted Research and I attended the farewell dinner for Maurice Moloney at Rothamsted on Tuesday – he is leaving to head up the biological science programmes at CSIRO in Australia. The respect and affection shown by his colleagues that evening shows he will be much missed. However Maurice is leaving Rothamsted in excellent shape which will enable the recruitment of a high caliber, new leader!
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